Fresno State's student-run newspaper

The Collegian

Fresno State's student-run newspaper

The Collegian

Fresno State's student-run newspaper

The Collegian


Fresno State Judo Club makes history in National Championship victory

Jacqueline Carrillo/The Collegian
Fresno State Judo player Sara Beberian smiles at the Fresno Judo Club on April 17.

The Fresno State Judo Club made history after its women’s team won the National Collegiate Judo Association (NCJA) National Championship, taking first place in two divisions on April 6, at Texas A&M University.

Senior Sara Beberian won first place in the women’s -78kg division and sophomore Vanessa Luna took home the gold in the -63kg in what was an emotional victory for the club.

“After I won, I cried because it just felt like [an] accumulation of 10 years of my life doing judo, which feels like my lifetime essentially,” Beberian said. “It felt like the cherry on top of a really long and hard career, so winning this tournament was something I always dreamed of, and it felt amazing to win.”

This is the club’s first national title win since 1989. Beberian and Luna also earned a chance to represent the United States at next year’s University World Games in Germany.

Fresno State Judo Club Head Coach Randy Imamura said it’s more than the national title itself that made the moment so special for him.

This is because some of the club members have trained together since before they attended Fresno State.

“I almost burst into tears because I’ve worked with these girls since they were little,” Imamura said. “This is pretty much close to the end of their judo careers, so for them to finish on top is a great feeling.”

Women’s Judo Championship medals displayed on table at the Fresno Judo Club on April 17. (Jacqueline Carrillo/The Collegian)

The club has always seen itself as a large family since the day it was established.

Judo arrived on the scene at Fresno State in the 1980s when the club was founded by Haruo Imamura, Randy’s father, and a Fresno Athletic Hall of Famer. Haruo was head coach when the women’s team won its last national championship in 1989 and also led the men’s team to two titles in 1985 and 1988.

Today, Randy and his brother, Richard Imamura, carry on their father’s legacy.

“I’ve seen them every three days, every four days my whole life when I come to practice,” Beberian said. “I feel like they felt my win just as much as I did because they invested in me and made me who I am today.”

Just as she is close with her coach she also shares a close friendship with Luna. The two national champions have competed together since they were young and feed off each other to get better every day.

They met when Beberian was still a novice and have formed an ever-growing bond since.

Luna is the more experienced of the two despite being a sophomore since judo runs as a tradition in her family dating back to her great-grandparents. Beberian started when she was 11 years old after she met a judo coach at her father’s high school reunion.

At first, they didn’t communicate as much when Beberian was still taking her first steps as a competitor, but that changed after she started getting better.

“As soon as she actually started doing standing work we actually started talking,” Luna said. “I was able to be with her when she was learning her first throws, so as she got better I was now able to compete with her, and she has actually made me stronger.”

Beberian sees Luna as if she was her sister because they have shared some of the biggest moments of their lives together.

“We grew up together, training together, we’ve seen each other for 10 years,” Beberian said. “We’ve watched each other get promoted, we’ve watched each other win, we’ve watched each other lose and we’re each other’s biggest supporter and biggest competition.”

Aside from preparing to represent the United States together in next year’s University World Games, the two national champions are preparing for life beyond the mat.

Beberian is set to graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in marketing and plans on getting married to her fiance next January.

Luna will continue her education at Fresno State to pursue a degree in kinesiology to become an athletic trainer.

Regardless of what paths they take, their judo lessons will accompany them in their journeys.

Luna states that the sport turned her into a more outspoken person.

“It’s not just competition that I do. One of the things they have competitors do is referee,” Luna said. “When I first started judo I was like, ‘I don’t want to referee,’ but being put into it they were like, ‘be louder, be able to say stuff more clearer, don’t be afraid it’s OK to tell them what you want to say.’”

Beberian said judo has taught her to be humble.

“I think the number one thing is respect,” Beberian said. “That’s important in life to be as strong as possible but still show respect to everyone around you.”

View Comments (1)
Donate to The Collegian
Our Goal

Your donation will support the student journalists of Fresno State Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Collegian
Our Goal

Comments (1)

All The Collegian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • G

    Garry TrogdonApr 26, 2024 at 8:17 pm

    Well done. Way to represent Fresno State!